You can clearly tell that Children of Zodiarcs is a passion project. From the start of the game, it’s clear to see that the developer has put a lot of love in the title. From the charming art design to the complex yet satisfying combat, Children of Zodiarcs is one of the most refreshing takes on the SRPG genre yet.
Children of Zodiarcs tells the story of young children living in poverty trying to survive in a society governed and ruled by the upper class. Striving to survive, Nahmi and her friends turn to steal from the wealthy. The story itself is much darker than the art style has you believe and draws upon real life situations that deal with poverty. Living in the slums Nahmi and her friends will take on gangs of thieves, city guards, and cultist cannibals.
Children of Zodiarcs looks like a traditional tactical strategy role playing game. Players traditionally move around on a grid but when it comes to actually attacking, that’s where Children of Zodiarcs takes a drastic turn from industry standards. Utilizing an interesting mixture of cards and dice, the game’s combat becomes a lot more strategic and on some occasions a lucky draw of the card.
The overview map isn’t anything spectacular. You simply move your icon and select the next story mission, side quest, or skirmish battle you want to participate. You can also select your own icon and listen to your party talk about their past. This is from what I learned is the only way to get any real background on the world and the characters in Children of Zodiarcs
While on missions the tactical RPG formula will be familiar to everyone who has ever played a game in the genre. You move your characters along a grid trying to position them in perfect spots to do the most damage and give you the biggest advantage. Attacking an enemy from behind stops them from counter attacking you in response. When using magic you have to make sure your teammates aren’t in the way of the attack to avoid friendly fire and if using healing cards you definitely don’t want your enemies to be get healed as well.
The biggest problem I found with the combat is not being to speed up or even skip enemy movements and attacks. Some missions will have so many enemies and waiting for them to make their moves and finish their attacks takes so long, it drags out a mission not by minute but sometimes into a full hour. I wish they would implement a skip function in a future patch and if there already is a skip function I sure as hell couldn’t figure out how to do it.
Each character comes with their own deck of cards consisting of attacks, support, healing, and debuff cards. The dice on the other hand don’t come with standard numbers but instead utilize different mechanics. The six sided dice have gems, shields, stars, lightning bolts and card icons, along with red dice that subtract points you have rolled. The gems act as an addition to either your attacking power or healing power. Sheld’s add to the defence of your character when they are being counter attacked. Stars are used to activate special abilities indicated on cards, the lightning bolts give you an secondary turn, and the card dice allows you to draw a card at the end of your turn.
Each of the cards are specific for each character and have plenty of information to keep track off. Attack cards consist of base damage value and some cards have special abilities that will activate if you roll the desired icons with your dice. Some cards will allow you to do extra damage if you roll two star dice. Some cards will even add extra dice to your roll allowing you to roll even better with higher chances of success.
Other key features come in the form of customization. If you don’t like some of the cards in your deck you can customize it removing cards and including others to help with whatever situation you want. If you want to make one of your characters a pure healer, for example, you can equip them with all healing cards. It’s a great feature especially when you fail in a mission you can prepare accordingly the next time you tackle that mission.
The last form of customization comes in the dice themselves. Each character comes with six slots and six, six-sided dice. If, for example, one of your dice has four stars, a shield, and a gem, you can customize that dice to have all six sides as stars guaranteeing you stars when you roll. In order to customize the dice you have to sacrifice other dice that you are awarded after completing missions. You can even upgrade the dice you already have. For example, you can take your dice and improve specific sides of it. If you have one side that’s just a simple gem you can upgrade that face to make it worth three gems instead of the original one it was before. Customizing dice becomes a must later in the game and helps get through a lot of sticky situations you’ll find yourself in.
It’s not just the combat that feels fresh and unique. The musical score fits perfectly with every situation you find yourself in and is very easy on ears. Unfortunately, the animation could have used some more work as they are as basic as it gets, but it doesn’t deter from the game in any real way.
Children of Zodiarcs is a surprising treat with a lot of love behind it. It’s ability to utilize such drastic changes to an old formula is a pleasant surprise and should be recognized. The team at Cardboard Utopia clearly had a lot passion behind the project and it shows with flying colors. If you are jonesing for a good tactical strategy role playing game, Children of Zodiarcs is the one to look at.